Kenny ready to embrace the task at Dundalk
"A team that fancies itself might find itself at the bottom of the table after seven games." - Stephen Kenny
With next to no budget for marketing the league these days, they work with what comes to hand at FAI headquarters at Abbotstown where the fixture list has the advantage of being both flexible and free.
Stephen Kenny has an air of resignation when asked about it all. He could have done with something a little less challenging for his first league game in charge of Dundalk but pitting him against the club that dispensed with his services less than a season after luring him down from Derry?
Well, you couldn’t buy that sort of publicity. No, really, they couldn’t but thankfully they don’t have to.
“Yeah, we’re playing Shamrock Rovers, Derry City are playing Sligo and Limerick are playing Cork . . . there’s no doubt they are not random, there’s no doubt that the fixtures are fixed. From a marketing point of view it makes sense but in terms of the integrity of the process, I don’t see how you can do it.”
Still, he acknowledges with a sigh: “that’s the match that’s on and we have got to prepare ourselves for it but in terms of getting points on the board, it’s a tough challenge”.
The Dubliner comes across as being more than a little raw about his treatment by Rovers last year when he was shown the door without ever having had a free hand to really shape the squad. At Oriel Park, he has certainly had that but with most of the constraints you would expect at a club that finished bottom of the table against a background of serious financial and organisational problems four months ago.
“I’m sort of used to taking over teams at the bottom,” he says. “Longford were at the bottom of the First Division and Bohs – although they had a strong set-up – were ninth when I took over, had to rebuild and won the league the following year.
“I took over at Derry the year after the relegation play-off and we went on to have two strong seasons. So this board reminds me of when I went to Derry first. There is just a lot of goodwill.”
The mood at Dundalk is certainly upbeat with the supporters apparently enthused by being given more of a say in the running of a club that is now presided over by people who have a long history of involvement in the game.
Money is tight but Kenny has assembled what he reckons is a technically strong squad with the proverbial mix of youth and experience. A title challenge is unlikely – although locals might point in the direction of Drogheda who surprised just about everybody last season – but a serious improvement on what was pretty much a 10-month nightmare is certainly on the cards.
“We have signed a lot of players who are young and hungry and determined to do well and make a name for themselves,” he says. “I have signed a little bit of experience in Stephen O’Donnell and Mark Rossiter. And, realistically, we probably got those players because they had bad injuries last season.
“But they both had very good pre-seasons and we have signed players with potential such as Richie Towell, Kurtis Byrne and Andy Boyle and real technical players like Keith Ward and John Dillon, a fellow like Stephen McDonnell who is very good.
“It is a bit of a step into the unknown for the fans and even for ourselves,” he continues. “But I have great faith in the players and technically they are as good as anybody. We have to get the balance of the team right now and we will only see that as we go.”
“The league was very strong when all the teams were full-time – Shelbourne, Cork, Drogheda in that period, St Pats, Derry: they all had real strong squads five or six years ago .
“This year, I think the league is at its strongest since that period. Last year I felt Dundalk were quite weak, Monaghan were not the strongest and Bray were in limbo last year when starting.
“But Bray look quite strong this year and they have a lot of experience. Who’s going to be at the bottom this year? It’s hard to predict. A team that fancies itself might find itself at the bottom after seven or eight games.
“My prediction is that going into the third series of games there will only be four or five points between third and fourth and 10th. There will be narrow victories and a lot of draws. Shamrock Rovers and Sligo Rovers are the two best teams, squad wise, but a lot of the others will be strong as well.”
The more pessimistic home fans might actually settle for a narrow away win tonight given last season’s record against Rovers. Dundalk have conceded 14 goals in their last three meetings and haven’t beaten the Hoops since the remarkable 5-1 win of September 2010.
Five to one, as it happens, are the odds against a home win tonight which says a lot about the task Kenny has taken on. But regardless of what happens tonight, the officials behind the fixture list reckon it will make for a good story.